Metgasco chief issues statement on Kingfisher incident

UPDATE 9am, October 4: METGASCO chief executive and managing director Peter Henderson has issued the following statement regarding the dangerous incident at the Kingfisher well, on the outskirts of Casino, in July:

"Metgasco takes safety very seriously and has a very good safety record.

"We were disappointed that a safety incident occurred on our Kingfisher well in July.

"No-one was hurt and the ultimate safety protection systems worked.

"We reported the incident immediately to the relevant government department (DRE) and conducted a detailed investigation.

"DRE inspectors visited the site as part of the investigation and issued a safety alert to industry groups so that all were aware of the incident and could learn from it. 

"The NSW Safety Unit is also part-way through an investigation and has issued its own safety alert. 

"Company and government reviews are typical of the way mature industries (eg; medical, automobile, aircraft) respond to safety incidents. 

"It is important to understand the factors that led to the incident and decide if different procedures or practices are required to better manage risks in the future.

"Some months ago we observed pressure in the annulus between two of the steel casing strings (pipes) that we use to ensure integrity of the well as part of a normal monitoring/wellbore integrity program and decided the best response was to make a repair and then decommission the well, as we were doing when the incident occurred. 

"There is no reason to be concerned about contamination of aquifers. 

"Furthermore, the gas we produce is about 98% methane, the main constituent of the gas people use every day in their homes and which is produced from cows and compost heaps. 

"The NSW Chief Scientist has noted that 90% of wells tested in the Great Artesian Basin showed some level of methane in the water. 

"Methane occurs naturally and is not toxic."

UPDATE 3.15pm: METGASCO has rejected claims it understated the seriousness of the incident at its Kingfisher well in July and that toxins were able to pass into groundwater.

The company has said it plans to release a statement tomorrow responding to the claims by the Nimbin Environment Centre.

However, in the meantime, it has said the company and its staff responded properly to the incident, a build-up of pressure sent heavy steel pipes shooting out of the Kingfisher well.

To the claim toxins had been able to pass from the well casing into the groundwater, the company says there were no toxins present to be able to pass into groundwater.

3.30pm: NIMBIN Environment Centre has accused coal seam gas company Metgasco of initially understating the seriousness of a dangerous incident at its Kingfisher well in July.

And Environment Centre secretary Alan Roberts has said the degraded state of pipes shot from the well, which is on the outskirts of Casino, in the incident meant it was likely toxins associated with coal seam gas drilling had migrated into the water table.

The incident has been the subject of an investigation by the NSW Government's Mine Safety Investigation Unit, as reported last week by The Northern Star, which found some workers at the site "were put at serious risk of harm from falling pipes".

No-one was injured in the incident but it caused "significant" equipment damage, the government report says.

However, in a statement released by the Nimbin Environment Centre, Mr Roberts says Metgasco downplayed the incident.

"When we first queried Metgasco they passed off this whole incident as methane exiting from their mud degasser 'which was normal'," Mr Roberts says in the statement.

Mr Roberts also points to a comment in the safety report saying a loss of integrity in the well casing meant "gas under pressure could migrate between the inside and outside of the casing" and that "this had been known for the life of the well".

"... Metgasco were assuring us that their casings were so reliable that no hydrocarbons or other toxins could migrate to our water tables, (but) all that while Metgasco knew that their Kingfisher well was so corroded it leaked like a sieve with fluids passing between the inner production casing and the outer casings," Mr Roberts says.

"These volumes between casings are supposed to be filled with cement. Clearly they weren't. And if the inner production tubing was corroded and leaking into the 990m of casing then it is a fair bet that the bottom km or so of uncased production tubing was leaking hydrocarbons and other pollutants to the aquifers down there."

Metgasco chairman Nick Heath has been invited to respond to Mr Roberts' comments.

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